Greenland (Spring) epitomizes Rockwell Kent's imaginative reordering of one of his favorite subjects, the vast Arctic regions. The sky, mountain formations and water are reduced to essential forms in this exceptional work, in which the two foreground figures are dwarfed by the majestic and seemingly limitless landscape of Greenland. "Kent gave full expression to the transcendent forces of nature in many of his Igdlorssuit compositions, juxtaposing a social world in flux--diminutive Greenlanders at work and at play in the foreground--with awesome geometries of the Earth and the infinite beyond. These paintings define Kent's mature style and represent a high point in his quest for innovation as an American artist on a journey of the imagination." (J.M. Wien, Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern, Portland, Maine, 2005 p. 73)
Among the first generation of American Modernist painters, Kent was born into a wealthy New York industrialist family. He was introduced to both fine art and architecture at a young age through travel and his family surroundings. Despite studying architecture for three years at Columbia University, Kent modified his focus to fine art, determined to make painting his life's pursuit. He spent three summers attending William Merritt Chase's Summer Art Classes in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, before enrolling at the New York School of Art where he studied under Robert Henri with classmates and friends, George Bellows and Edward Hopper.
Chase and Henri were master portraitists and figure painters, yet Kent was never moved to follow their example. Rather, undoubtedly influenced by his architectural background and more importantly his plein air training with Chase, Kent sought to paint the natural world. "The basic structure of Kent's own paintings of land and sea shares with those of Chase an abstract design based on spatial, frequently horizontal arrangements that captures the creative response to nature. The plein-air philosophy so captivated Kent that, with few exceptions, he would for the rest of his life shun both still lifes and portraits as too confining and time bound." (Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern, p. 12)
Kent spent years traveling and developing his outdoor painting technique in both domestic and exotic locales, including Monhegan Island, Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego, France and Ireland. Kent produced paintings and works on paper in every location, yet it was the mystical barrenness and vast expanses of Greenland which mesmerized Kent beyond all other settings. Kent best explains his affinity for the Arctic, "In Greenland, one discovers, as though for the first time, what beauty is. God forgive me that I tried to paint it." (as quoted in Rockwell Kent, New York, 1945, p. 11) Jake Milgram Wien writes, "The mystical presence of magisterial mountains in Greenland sustained Kent in much the same way that the Bavarian Alps were to nourish his friend Marsden Hartley in 1933. The pyramidal forms that both artists painted and drew were symbolic of inner drives and spiritual yearnings." (Rockwell Kent: The Mythic and the Modern, p. 70)
The Arctic wilderness inspired Kent to cultivate his keen and lively vision of nature and combine it with his gift of manipulating masses and proportions. The paintings produced, as evidenced by Greenland (Spring), are arguably the finest and most important works of the artist's career. "In the Greenland paintings style and subject matter mesh completely. From the stark contrasts of light and dark, of pure unmodulated color, the artist creates a monumental, coherent style...Vast, still spaces with processions of unbroken horizontals create surreal perspectives in which a man is dwarfed by the majestic face of the Arctic...As we look over his shoulder, this is perhaps how Rockwell Kent wishes us to see him: in and of the landscape, paying homage to Nature the best way he knew how, by painting it." (R.V. West, Rockwell Kent: The Early Years, Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition catalogue, Brunswick, Maine, 1969, p. 7)
By the time Kent arrived in Greenland in 1929 he had already received fame nationally and internationally as one of the most notable of the American Modernists. Yet it was not until Kent began painting in Greenland that his painting style matured and reached its full potential. "In his Greenland paintings, Kent brought to maturity a vision and form of expression singularly sympathetic to the dramatic, stagelike configurations of the arctic. He captured the intimidating majesty of icebergs and mountains soaring up from a horizontal background of dark seas and crowned by lowering clouds. In many of his paintings, the sense of remoteness and overwhelming power is intensified by the insignificant role of human beings in the composition. On the other hand, his sharing the lives of the natives so completely brought to his perceptions of them a warmth and intimacy...The Greenland ventures brought Rockwell Kent the kind of celebrity that is the dream of every artist." (R.V. West, An Enkindled Eye: The Paintings of Rockwell Kent, Santa Barbara, California, 1985, p. 11)
According to Richard V. West, Greenland (Spring) "was begun during the artist's third visit to Greenland 1934-35, and completed after his return to the United States. This is verified by the two signatures, which the artist typically applied to his paintings whenever he added to or reworked them subsequent to completing the initial composition. In this case, it appears that the painting was substantially completed in Greenland with only the figures and portions of the foreground added at a later date, probably shortly after the artist's return to the United States.
"The painting is an excellent example of Kent's approach to landscape at this period, subsuming a strong, realistic delineation of the landscape elements into a flattened, modernist composition that emphasizes the strong horizontal line of the water's edge and rugged profile of the distant mountains." (unpublished letter dated October 5, 2006)
This painting will be included in the catalogue raisonné currently being prepared by Richard V. West.
This painting will be included in Scott R. Ferris' forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings.